“Who Did Not Make Me a Woman”
I was born the oldest daughter of a mostly secular Jewish family and became observant in my early adulthood. I love everything about Judaism and my new life. However, to this day I am bothered by the blessing men recite daily in their morning prayers – “Blessed are You… who did not make me a woman.” It just seems so demeaning! How does that jibe with everything else Judaism teaches about the importance and special role of women?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
I sympathize with your frustration. After teaching us so many positive messages about the central role women play in Judaism, the Sages go ahead and institute a blessing where men thank God they were not creating as women! How does that fit with everything else we are taught? Are the Sages really chauvinists in disguise?
However, most people badly misunderstand the meaning of this blessing. In fact, there is nothing demeaning about it. It actually reveals the profound wisdom of our Sages.
The idea is as follows.
Kabbalistically, a woman’s body is considered spiritually higher than a man’s. At the creation, Adam was created directly from the earth. Eve, by contrast, was created from a part of Adam – one step further removed from the physical world.
As a result, a woman’s physical side is loftier than that of a man, a closer reflection of the spiritual world from which it derives. This can be borne out in many ways. Here are a few examples:
(a) Women tend to be more repulsed by disgusting objects or vulgar behavior than men – such as insects, blood, and obscene behavior. Being more spiritual, they find the coarsest aspects of the physical world more repellant.
(b) Women are typically more attractive than men – meaning, their physical side is a closer reflection of their spiritual. The Torah likewise tells us that our matriarchs were especially beautiful. Their inner spiritual beauty was more strongly reflected on the physical plane than that of their male counterparts.
A different way of stating this is that women have greater body-soul harmony than men. Their bodies are naturally closer and more attuned to their souls. Conversely, men, in spite of the loftiness of their souls, have bodies much more liable to stoop to vulgar, depraved behavior. A casual reading of the news on any day will readily confirm that men are far more likely than women to be involved in vicious, sordid crime.
However, as with all issues, there are two ways of looking at this. Since men have a much greater discrepancy between soul and body, it is much harder for them to control their bodies. But as a result, when they do, they have accomplished much more than women – and have perfected their souls much more in the process.
Getting back to our question, the blessing “who has not made me a woman” is part of a series. Men recite three blessings, in the following order – “who has not made me a non-Jew,” “who has not made me a slave,” and “who has not made me a woman.” This succession reflects who has more mitzvot (commandments). A non-Jew was only commanded in a few mitzvot, a slave in more, and a woman yet more. Men were given the most mitzvot because of their body-soul discrepancy. Since their bodies may fall lower, they were given more mitzvot to overcome that weakness – enabling them to sublimate their physical sides.
Men are thus more challenged than women and as a result are given more mitzvot. Now there is a rule about challenges in life: We do not ask God for them, but if we get them we are thankful. We do not ask G-d, say, to get stuck in an airport for Shabbat and have to observe it under very trying circumstances. But if that is our fate, we thank God for giving us such a challenge to rise to.
The blessing that women say is thanking God for creating them “according to His will” – i.e., much more in harmony with His will and naturally closer to Him. Men, on the other hand, recognize that God made life much harder for them. We do not look for the trials of masculine tendencies, but if granted them we are thankful He saw us up to the challenge.
(Based in part on an article by Rebbetzin Devorah Fastag (Heshelis).)